After a mere 70 years, give or take a few months, the Mauser company of Germany is once again producing Mauser 98 rifles.
Granted, the company is no longer Mauser-Werke Oberndorf, and granted, the “new” Mauser 98 is not an exact continuation of the original 98, but for all intents and purposes, it’s close enough.
Unquestionably, the 98 is the all-time greatest accomplishment of the Mauser company. It is unrivalled as the favorite bolt-action for custom hunting rifles, whether it is a reworked military 98, a commercial Mauser from Oberndorf, or one of the many high quality clones that have emerged since 1945.
The only surprising thing about its reintroduction, many years after the last one rolled out of Oberndorf, is that it took so long to do it. The reasons why Mauser resisted producing its greatest design, preferring instead to introduce one flop after another with the Mauser name on it, is a mystery that will never be solved.
When you look around and see companies like Granite Mountain producing excellent 98s and selling them for big money, or original commercial Oberndorfs being auctioned like gold bars, it would seem to even the most sluggish business strategist that here was a pile of money, just waiting for Mauser to pick it up.
A magnum Mauser action, stamped “Made in Germany” and adorned with the famous Mauser banner, would attract buyers with fistfuls of cash. Yet, for years, as the Mauser name changed hands, all manner of reasons were given for abandoning the 98. One executive, 20 years ago, told me the 98 was “outdated, and would never be made again.” Another said it was too expensive to make, and the company could design and produce better rifles for less. A third dismissed the custom-rifle market’s love for the 98 as “pure sentiment.”
All of those reasons may make perfect sense to a newly minted MBA with no knowledge of rifles, riflemen and the rifle market. Still, you have to wonder. Here they have a proven design requiring no R&D. It can go straight into production tomorrow. There is a proven demand showing no sign of slacking, and continuing proof they can sell for high prices.
What’s more, they are not limited to just one size or model. There are at least a dozen different actions Mauser could produce, which the market would welcome with open arms. Some of them don’t even have a clone to compete with. Immediately, for example, you have the different sizes: Magnum, standard and short (kurz). Any of these could be made with round bridge and ring, square bridge or double square.
Then there is the G33/40, the lightened action made in Czechoslovakia for mountain troops. Other military actions, such as the Mexican Mauser, have a small receiver ring, allowing even sleeker lines and lighter weight. For complete purists, Mauser could make actions with the old over-the-top three-position safety, or market the modern preference, which is the Model 70-style wing safety.
There is a complete product line just sitting there, waiting.
Talking with people from Mauser over the years, I sometimes got the feeling they considered it an admission of defeat to return to the 98. Instead, they wanted to introduce something new that would make people forget the 98, and cement their own place in history. While it is admirable to have lofty ambitions, that is aiming too high.
In the opinion of many who know more about this than I do, the 98 will never be excelled. It is not inherently the most accurate action, nor the strongest, nor can it be made the lightest. What it is, though, is a combination of qualities, including great versatility, all built into an action of fine steel that, with knowledge and skill, can be turned into a custom product of unrivalled beauty and quality.
Even the pre-64 Winchester Model 70, fine though it is, cannot match all those qualities, and new bolt-action designs, by and large, are what they are, and can never be anything else. There is little or no room for modification and artistry.
As for the “pure sentiment” argument, anyone who knows rifle lovers knows that sentiment plays a huge part in everything we do. Rather than dismiss it, the company should embrace it – as perhaps, they now have.—Terry Wieland